29 November 2010

scenes from a week

sunrise with trampoline
sunrise with trampoline

the callistemons are flowering

cumquat marmalade
cumquat marmalade

pretty weeds

big blurry cousin hug
big blurry cousin hug

plectranthus argentatus above a carpet of callistemon petals
plectranthus, with a carpet of callistemon petals

25 November 2010


I was going to say We have Wols! but actually, Tawny Frogmouths are nightjars, not owls.

looking a bit cross that there are no more worms

Whatever they be, they be rather special, and we have four of them in our garden at the moment. (No, I don't know why I'm talking like Cap'n Birdseye Hagrid a pirate either. I'll stop now).

I went out to the clothesline a few days ago and heard that distinctive vroom vroom noise. I put down my laundry basket and looked around, not really expecting to see one as they're notoriously difficult to spot, spending their days sitting stock still, pretending to be a bit of branch. But I saw one, then spied another in the next tree, and then a third - a juvenile - in the branch above. I talked to them for a minute or two and then reached up to pull a bedsheet off the line and jumped back in fright as there was this little baby sitting on the fence a foot or so behind where the sheet had been hanging, gazing solemnly at me.

strange expression

He gave me a quizzical look as if to say, I'm a poor wee babe who mistook a fence for a branch and hey now you're here ...

ridiculous hairdo

... give me something to eat?

I called the children and, Son #2, who you may remember is something of a junior Dr Doolittle, obliged. (Do follow that link for some lovely shots of a koala, taken by Son #2 at extremely close range).

It looks like a muppet in this shot, don't you think?

We raided the worm farm and that wee bird gulped down at least half a dozen worms.

Son #2 plays at being Dr Doolittle

I'd like a worm, please

After a few minutes one of the adult birds vroomed again so we popped the little fella back on the fence to guard the laundry again.

a little visitor watches over the clothesline

on the fence by the clothesline

(I excitedly told a friend who rushed over the next day to commune with the frogmouths herself, but of course the two babies went awol [ha, pun not intended] and the adults stayed up high for the duration of her cup of tea. The minute she left the babies reappeared. Of course).

Moving on but still speaking of wols, remember these?

sue's wols

The very talented and generous Sue sent me one of her owls, and either by clever design or marvellous serendipity, sent me the very one that happened to be my favourite. Thank you so much Sue.

Also speaking of more wols, there's a fabulous new shop in town, owned and run by a lovely friend of mine. If you are fond of all things owlish, do drop in and have a look at The Seventh Owl. Among lots of exquisite things, you might find some very beautiful pinnies and bags made from vintage kimonos, stitched by another clever friend.


In non-owl related news, I updated the soap post to answer some questions that were raised in the comments, and more importantly to update the safety information. Please have another look at it if you are planning on making your own soap.

In further unrelated news, last weekend Son #1 went to the Year 10 formal (like a prom, for the Americans in the audience) wearing a $15 suit from the op shop, an op shop shirt, his father's tie and shoes. He looked very handsome yet slightly uncomfortable and he has forbidden me to mention milestones and time flying etc or upload a photo here or on Flickr. (He didn't mention Facebook, ha).

And Son #3 made a mighty fine Menelaus in The Tale of Troy last night, in his papier mache Spartan helmet and little calico tunic. Thankfully the fight scene between he and Paris was spectacular yet uneventful, unlike a rehearsal during which he gave Paris a black eye and she (yes, Paris is played by a girl in an impressive display of disregard for gender-dictated casting) took a chunk out of his nose. I forgot to take my camera to the class play so will be relying on other parents' uploads to Facebook, or we'll have to dress him up again and re-enact the crucial scenes in the backyard. That'll freak out the tawny frogmouths.

14 November 2010

Easy homemade soap

So, you want to know how to make your own soap?

Okey dokey here goes. If anything in this tutorial is unclear please let me know and I'll do my best to clarify. (Cos you know I'm such an expert now *cough*).

basic homemade soap
Please ignore stray dirt and hair. You can't get decent stylists these days.

You will need:
long rubber gloves
long sleeved shirt
closed shoes

a 1 litre plastic/glass jar or jug
large tupperware/decor shallow container
large saucepan
measuring cup
thermometer (optional)

CAUTION! Lye (caustic soda) is highly dangerous and can cause nasty injuries. Cover up, don't make soap with children or pets around, make sure your work area is well ventilated, with no distractions, and always add the caustic soda to cold water NOT the other way around. Keep your soapmaking tools just for soapmaking, don't use them for cooking any more.

Also, and big thanks to Jasche in the comments for this reminder, a very important item to mention for those new to soap making is to never use aluminum containers. The lye reacts dangerously. In fact the only containers/utensils that should be used for soap making is wood, glass, plastic (heat resistant), and stainless steel.

I know, it's daunting isn't it. But if you exercise caution and are sensible it's fine, really. Still interested? Allrighty.

Olive and Canola Oils Soap
150g caustic soda
500g coconut oil (copha)
250g canola oil
250g olive oil
1.5 cups cold water
50g essential oil for fragrance (optional). Recommended oils are citrus, rosemary or lavender but you can experiment. Don't use food colouring as it's not stable, you can colour your soap with natural colours like tumeric etc if you wish (I haven't).


Pour 1.5 cups of cold water into the plastic or glass jar or jug. Measure your caustic soda into a separate container and slowly and carefully add it to the water, stirring continuously. Do not lean over or breathe the fumes, and don't touch the liquid (even with your rubber gloves on, and they should definitely be on by now). I use a pyrex jug and place it in the sink so any spills are contained. You could also do this step outside. The mixture will become very very hot. Place the jug into a sink of a few centimetres of cold water to cool to approx 40C.

Meanwhile, melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan on low heat. When melted, add the canola oil and olive oils. Mix well. Allow the oils to cool to approx 40C too.

When the two containers are the same temperature, slowly and carefully pour the caustic soda mixture into the saucepan of oils. Mix thoroughly until the mixture looks like thick custard. When drops leave a trace on the surface, your soap has reached 'trace' and is ready. Add fragrance at this stage if desired and stir for another 10 minutes. (Note: I use a stick blender to stir as hand stirring can take ages to reach trace. However, be careful not to splash as the soap is still caustic at this stage. Keep the mixer submerged and alternate 'pulse' action with hand stirring. DO NOT use a handmixer - too splashy! Purists say you should always hand stir).

Now carefully pour your soap mixture into a greased and lined (with baking paper or clingwrap) large shallow container, put the lid on and wrap the whole thing in towels or blankets to insulate it while it saponifies. Leave wrapped for 24 hours. Next day unmould and cut into slices. Arrange on a sheet of baking paper and leave somewhere for at least 6 weeks to cure, turning slices occasionally. (Once your soap saponifies it is no longer caustic so you can handle it while it's curing).

This is my favourite recipe so far, and the coconut oil gives a lovely lather. I haven't yet tried my Castile soap that I mentioned yesterday (it's still curing) but will report back when I do. Update: just used it. It doesn't lather as nicely as soaps with coconut oil, but I'm liking it anyway. The poppy seeds are lovely scrubby scratchy additive.

lovely homemade soap

Notes: this recipe is calculated for the specified oils only. If you substitute oils or use different ratios, you will need to recalculate the amount of caustic soda by running your quantities through a lye calculator, like this one.

Most soap recipes use weight rather than volume measurements. Many are in imperial measurements, others are metric and some specify particular brands of fats or lye that are not available globally (most frustrating). There are heaps of recipes on the internet if you google. Here is the Castile recipe and another I'm hoping to try soonish.

Castile Soap
50 oz olive oil (I have a dual metric/imperial scale so was able to use this one)
7 oz lye
20 oz water
(and I threw in some poppy seeds)

olive oil soap with poppy seeds

Easy Beginners Soap (because it specifies cups rather than grams or ounces)
700ml water
270g caustic soda
4.5 cups olive oil
2 cups grapeseed oil
2 cups coconut oil

Some possible additives are oatmeal, honey, powdered milk, herbs, seeds and petals etc. The possibilities are endless really. Have fun and let me know if you try it.

Edited to answer some questions that were asked in the comments, so may be useful to other folk too:
All liquids are weighed except for the Easy Beginners Soap recipe which specifies cups of oil.

The ounces in the castile recipe are weighed ounces not fluid ounces.

I use a tupperware rectangular container, about 35cm x 25cm approx. Some smaller recipes don't fill the container as deeply, so I cut about 15 bars horizontally, while the larger quantity recipes (the olive oil one for example) filled the container almost to the brim and therefore I could cut the bars vertically (if that makes sense) and got about 2 dozen bars from one batch. You can also use one litre milk cartons or Pringles tubes as moulds.

Caustic soda is in the cleaning aisle of your supermarket or hardware shop. Mechanix is the brand I use.

No, the glass won't (shouldn't) crack. The liquid becomes hot but not boiling. I put my pyrex jug in the sink first, mix the lye solution and then drizzle cold water into the sink to cool the whole thing.

And finally, yes you should keep a stick blender exclusively for soapmaking. You really don't want traces of caustic soda in your next banana smoothie.

13 November 2010

once upon a time in a far off land ...

... there was this place called Sewjourn. If you've been reading here for a while you'll know how ace a weekend at Sewjourn is, and Cup Weekend (yep, another long weekend, hip hip) was no different.

we brought the rain with us again

We took the rain with us again, although thankfully it wasn't quite as apocalyptic as last time and after a bit the sun did grace us with its presence.

sunshine after rain

I took remarkably few photographs this time, which I think is testament to how much fun I was having just being in the moment. I did a spot of knitting, a wee bit of essay preparation, some cooking, a whole lot of eating, enough laughing to keep me going for some time to come, and some quilting.

On the first day my quilt looked like this ...

arranging the blues

... and on the second day it looked like this.

ocean blues
There's Kate. Hi Kate!

On the last day it had a deep blue border around it, of which there is no photographic evidence.

Others were busy too. The Kates were industrious with their quilting and knitting and felting ...


... Sue made couch covers and a parliament of wols ...

sue's wols

Yuki knitted and sketched and made the most fantastic Japanese meal, Janet and Jenny sewed their hearts out, Kate pointed imperiously (that shot makes me laugh, although please excuse my bottom) and Felicity did amazing Miss Havershamish things with white linens and lace.

in full bloom

There were a few hiccups. Kate flew in from Adelaide for the weekend but her luggage went awol for a few worrying hours before the airline couriered it to her, Jenny remembered sewing gear and bed linen but forgot to bring her bag of clothes (thank heavens for the Lancefield op shop which supplied her with clothes and pyjamas for the weekend), and Janet's car broke down as she tried to return Kate to the airport at the end of the weekend, necessitating a quick shift of luggage into my car and a call to the RACV for Janet.


But on the whole of course it was delightful and wonderful and hilarious and well, you know. Awesome. There's nothing quite like hanging out with kindred spirits.

busy bee

This was the last of our 2010 craft weekends and it's been an amazing and rewarding journey of nurturing friendships, developing the vibe of the tribe, finding the right path. Thanks to my co pilot Janet and to everyone who's come to one or more of our weekends this year. Here's to next year. And the ones after that. And to the ones when we're in our seventies. Oh yeah.

the sun after the rain

PS. Also, because you asked nicely, a soap tutorial is on its way.

12 November 2010

next to godliness, apparently

I made soap! Three times!

my handmade soap

I'm ever so pleased with myself. Never again will I buy supermarket soap, with its dodgy ingredients and chemicals. The soaps pictured are from my second batch, which was a raging hooting spectacular success, unlike the first batch which was only moderately tolerable.

homemade soap

The most recent batch is still curing so I haven't had a chance to gloat smugly over it try it out yet, but it is a castile soap (ie. uses just olive oil, no other oils or fats) with some poppy seeds that I nonchalantly threw in for some scrubby action, as by now I was a Master Soapmaker.

Just a warning, if you're on my Christmas list you'll likely be getting homemade soap this year, maybe even with one or two of these if I get my act together in time.

While I'm updating you on my bathroom business, I should tell you I bought these recently and I love them.

bamboo toothbrushes

They're environmentally friendly toothbrushes (because your old toothbrush goes to landfill and will not break down in your lifetime, or your children's lifetime. And if you replace your toothbrush every 3 months as recommended, that's a lot of toothbrushes cluttering up the rubbish tip), available from here, via Kate who first mentioned them here.

Next up I'm going to make Melissa's homemade deodorant and complete my transformation into the mudbrick house dwelling, alpaca spinning, dishcloth knitting, organically grown caftan wearing hippy I've been threatening my husband with for years.

Note to self: buy goat.

PS. In case you're wondering why there are only four toothbrushes shown when you all know I have a family of five, no, I haven't snapped and killed Son #2 (that P is him). Son #3 (the missing H) and his toothbrush were on camp when I took this photo. And yes, the toothbrushes are identical, so if you buy them, and YOU SHOULD BUY THEM, you'll need a waterproof pen. The B is the mister by the way. There, you now know all our names practically. Don't stalk us, 'k?

10 November 2010

8 November 2010

In Bali, everywhere you look there's a temple

Some are big and grand

Pura Tanah Lot

Pura Tanah Lot

Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati

some are small, local ones

everywhere you look there's a temple

and some are tiny shrines to protect, say, the rice paddies.

shrine to protect the rice paddies

A back street in Ubud: rice, a shrine, tropical flowers.

Most feature statuary of some kind

at Pura Tanah Lot

Monkey Forest

Monkey Forest

Monkey Forest

and there's a festival of some sort every three minutes. While we were there the festival of metal took place and all the motorbikes and cars (which usually have a daily offering on their dashboards anyway) were highly decorated.

decorating the cars and motorbikes

offering on the front of a motorbike

There are offerings everywhere - in front of every house, shop and building, all over the footpaths, tucked into alcoves, on ledges, you name it.

offering with chocolate bar

freshening up the offerings

statue with offering

offerings everywhere

Bringing the offerings

blessing the offerings

blessing the offerings

One can purchase flowers and petals at the market to make one's own offerings

the flower and petal seller

or you can buy them already constructed.

offerings for sale

architectural details

The tall bamboo decorations placed outside temples and some houses, called penjors, are prepared for major festival days.

Statue and penjor


marigold decorations from a ceremony

Clearly it's all too much for some.